The first gun-deer season with the new mentored hunting rules in place has come and gone. No three-year-olds killed people with a 30-06. No one reported a kid wandering in the woods alone, not knowing how to get back to the truck or hunting shack. The world did not come to an end. What did happen?
A good number of younger kids got to experience deer hunting for the first time. Did all of them shoot a deer? No. Did all of them really even get to carry a gun? No. For many hunting parents, the change of law came too late for their kids to be prepared to hunt this season. The big thing, though, is there was not the "mass trauma" posited by the nay sayers and non-hunters who wanted us all to imagine toddlers with high powered rifles, running through the woods unsupervised. I would venture to say nothing even close to that happened.
Did anyone get shot during hunting season? Yes. Did a kid shoot anyone? No. I believe there is a reason for that. Kids, especially those just learning to handle a gun, when directed properly (as most are), are likely to be very careful. Once they shoot a gun, even at a target, they get a very good idea of what that weapon can do, of what kind of destruction it is capable. I remember the first time I shot a gun, as I am sure most hunter do. My thought was, "OK, that can kill somebody," and I knew right away how serious it was to have this gun in my hands. I hoped, before the season that kids would think the way I thought and that parents would be sure they fully understood the gravity of it all. That seems to have happened. I am happy to see this.
Adults, in my opinion, can be less careful with a gun than a kid just learning to shoot. We have handled guns for decades, right? Of course we should know what we are doing. But, simply by being so familiar with hunting, some tend to cut corners and not be as careful as they would otherwise have been. I would not say this of everyone, but things happen. At times, a hunter can get careless.
"Eh, nothing has ever happened before. Just this one time I am going up the tree stand with my gun on my back."
"I usually keep the safety on, but I'm more careful than that. I don't always need to do that. I know what I'm doing."
"I always know where everyone in my hunting party is. No big deal. I can shoot at something and not have to worry what is behind it."
These things can happen. But they do not seem to happen to kids who are trained properly. And I should not say just kids - new hunters - anyone new to firearms. Once they fire that first shot, it sinks in, and it stays with them.
"Things can go tragically wrong if I am not paying attention."
"I always want to be as safe as I can. I would rather be safer than I have to be than be sorry for hurting someone."
Safety concerns, and how complacent we can become, are not limited just to hunting. Fishing, ATVing, motorcycling, even snowboarding or skiing - we can become complacent to inherent dangers after doing something so many times and for so long. But, with hunting, we have good odds of hurting someone else in the process.
So now we will have kids out in the woods with us. I do not think it is a bad thing. I did not think it was necessarily a bad thing to begin with. In talks with other hunters, I heard one refrain - we need to get kids into the sport of hunting before age 10. By that time, many kids have other interests and are into sports and social media and a wealth of other things. They may not be as likely to take time to learn to shoot or hunt at that age. Does this mean every kid should be in the woods with a gun? Definitely not. Not every adult should be in the woods with a gun. But, introducing them to the sport of hunting early, even if they are not carrying a gun, can start a life-long journey of stewardship. I understand many do not see hunters as stewards, but it is in our best interest to manage our wildlife well. We want to keep hunting and we want our kids to keep hunting. For that reason, we need to take care of our wildlife populations. We need to teach our kids to care for those populations as well. We need to teach them about habitat. We need to teach them about nature and the cruelty of harsh winters. All of these things go toward a child growing up to be an adult who understands his or her place in the world and what a responsibility it truly is to be at the top of the food chain. I think many kids started to learn about that this hunting season, and I think that is a great thing. There is so much more to hunting than pulling a trigger. That may be something non-hunters do not understand, as they have never experienced it.
In all, I am happy to see more youth get into the sport. Maybe it is something they will stick with. Maybe it is not. But at least they have been given the option. They have probably been taught some things that will stick with them for life. And no one lost an eye.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at email@example.com.